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WASHINGTON: The United States views its relationships with India and Pakistan individually and not as a “zero-sum game”, says the Pentagon while endorsing Islamabad’s claim that it needs F-16s for fighting extremists.

The issue of the eight F-16s that Pakistan wants to buy from the United States came up again at a news briefing on Tuesday when an Indian journalist asked the Pentagon press secretary if he really believed Islamabad needed those planes for fighting “home-grown terrorists”.

Press Secretary Peter Cook reminded him that US Defence Secretary Ash Carter had addressed the issue during his visit to India last month when he faced similar questions from journalists in New Delhi.

Mr Carter, when asked why India should treat the US as a trusted partner when it was willing to sell fighter jets to Pakistan, said: “Pakistan has used F-16s in its operations in the Fata,... we approve of those operations... and where we can cooperate with Pakistan in that regard, we do.”

Commenting on Mr Carter’s visit, a US military newspaper, Stars and Stripes, noted that while the two countries announced progress in some logistics- and technology-sharing programmes during that visit, they “fell short on other key issues” and the US relationship with Pakistan was one such issue.

At the Pentagon news conference, Press Secretary Cook not only recalled Secretary Carter’s statement on the F-16 dispute but also clarified the US position on its relations with both India and Pakistan.

“The United States views the relationship with Pakistan as not a zero-sum game with regard to India. We look at these relationships individually,” he said.

“We have an interest and Pakistan has an interest in going after terrorist groups in that country. We’ve talked about it at length, and that is the focus of that security relationship with Pakistan.”

At the same time, Mr Cook added, the United States had “security interests with India that stand alone and stand apart”.

He noted that the US had made significant strides in improving its relations with India in the last few years and wanted to continue to further enhance the partnership.

Despite the US administration’s desire to sell those eight F-16s, Pakistan is unable to buy them, as Congress would not allow the administration to use foreign military funding for subsidising the sale.

Published in Dawn, May 19th, 2016